Looking for Readers for My Novel

Anyone love to read? Love to read contemporary/literary fiction about family secrets, marriage and forgiveness? Well, if you said yes so far, read on.

I’m at the end of my process for writing my first complete novel. I’ve had two professional edits so far and have done multiple myself in order to cut the length of my book in half. (Because LONG is what happens when you work on a story for years, on and off, between having babies and homeschooling…)

I’ve had friends and other writers read multiple versions over recent years, but now that I have a newer, shorter version, I need fresh eyes to read it and let me know if it works–eyes that don’t remember parts of the earlier story that got cut!

If you’re still curious, here’s my back-of-the-book blurb:

Still House

When an environmental disaster gives her the excuse, Maizy Perez, a struggling young mother, packs her things to leave her second husband in an attempt to escape the house and the baby boy whose very existences accuse her of betraying her first husband. Twenty-nine years later, her grown son Asher Marin struggles in his marriage when he and his wife buy their first home, an act that threatens to bare his infidelity. As the house forces more secrets into the light than any in the family bargained for, each is challenged to find out who they really are in the great need of forgiveness.  


I should also mention, the story jumps between the two generations: the young mother’s world and the grown son’s world. And think Oprah’s book club kind of books for the kind of character-driven drama I think is in this story.

If that sounds interesting, and you’d like to read it this chilly winter, let me know in the comments! I am looking for people who can commit to reading it within a month for fun, as a word document or PDF file. (I hate putting a time limit on it, but this is what I need right now. Also I have one caveat–I want people to read it only if it is enjoyable. If for any reason it stops being enjoyable, stop reading, no questions asked! Some of my best friends simply do not like this genre, and I get that! (If you do stop reading and can tell me why, though, that would be like gold to me as I try to make this the best story that I can. )

What do I ask after you read? If you were local, I’d take you out for coffee after you read the book and just chat with you–because you would be an expert in what I can never know myself: how a reader processes my story and feels about it. I’d ask you how you felt about each main character. I’d ask you if there was anything that really grabbed you, as well as anything that was confusing, lost your interest or just didn’t quite seem believable. (I’ve done this many times before, so I’m really okay with a reader telling me scenes that didn’t make sense, a character they didn’t like, or a plot feature that didn’t ring true, etc. ) I simply listen to the feedback and am so appreciative of anyone giving of TIME to give my story a chance! (And if you’re not local, I can’t take you out for coffee, but we’d still chat about your feelings/impressions of the book when you were done, pretty informally. We’d do it the way that is easiest for you: email? Facebook chat? You let me know!

Multiple amazing and wonderful people have given me this amazing gift already, and each time, I am truly awed and humbled by anyone willing to give of their time to read and give feedback!

Thank you for considering, if you read this far!





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Andrew Wyeth lesson

Muted grays and browns, little color. When you say “Andrew Wyeth,” to me, this is what comes to mind.  And this image:


Andrew Wyeth. Master Bedroom.

Most of his paintings conjure cold for me. The crisp chill of an outside winter’s day–or an inside chill, as in the above.  So while I’d not choose most of his paintings to hang in my home to bring some warmth, he is a master at what he does: capturing stark beauty of nature, of barrenness, of sparse prairies and lonely houses and barns. Of winter. Of chill. But even the brisk energy of the outdoors somehow comes across.

But what about him would I like to pass on to my students? Discovering Great Artists has a great project, and this is my take on it:

The Snow Project

I created this for my Masters class, students ages 10-13, in our Classical Conversations community, but this could be done with journeymen or even apprentices. The goal is to use watercolor to create a winter outdoor scene using dried glue–an easy method to create the illusion of snowflakes.


watercolor paper



newspaper to cover table

paper towels for wiping brushes

school glue (such as Elmer’s)


Step 1: I highly suggest having students do this step earlier in your morning, maybe even an hour before your art class time, so it will be dry in time for Fine Arts class.

Before I even explained anything else, I gave my students the watercolor paper and the glue, with instructions to make shallow dots of glue to mimic snow in an outdoor scene. I say shallow because the fuller/deeper the dots are, the longer they take to dry–and they will dry often like a globe top or a fallen layer cake. The goal is a flat dried circle of glue.

Step 2: Okay, now you’re starting class officially, by introducing Andrew Wyeth. I showed my students some of the artwork above and below and asked their observations. Piggy-backing off their responses, I shared some bio info from the book, noting particularly that he is a realist painter and a regionalist, specializing in the surroundings of his own region of the US.



Andrew Wyeth, Outpost.

Step 3: I explained that we would make an outdoor winter scene, and drew their attention to the tree. It’s good to ask, “Why is one side of the tree lighter in color?” Getting them to observe the effect of light is a key observational skill in drawing. Though tutoring for CC does not ask this of you, I decided I wanted to use this opportunity to teach a little about light and shadow.



Andrew Wyeth. The Ax.

Step 4: I gave students their papers with the dried glue dots and tasked them with imagining a winter scene they’d like to paint. (The blobs of dried glue on their paper already gave them falling snowflakes.) I chose to make mine a scene of the snow just beginning, so my landscape (below) showed autumn with some color in it still.

wyeth painting 001

Step 5: (optional) Have students lightly sketch an outdoor scene on their watercolor paper.

Step 6. Painting the background. I shared with students that it’s far easier to start with the background first–rather than paint a detailed tree and then have to try to fit other things behind and between the branches! It’s easiest to begin with the sky and the background stand of trees.

This is not the kind of painting I’ve ever really spent time doing, so this was a new thing for me. I’m always trying to encourage my students to try new things–to give a project a chance even if they’d rather be painting a car or a cat (or playing a video game)!

Step 7. Next, I suggested painting the focal point–the main objects you want your audience to see. For me that’s my trees. Before I painted, I had to decide which direction the light came from. In last week’s lesson (Georgia O’Keefe lesson), I showed students how to “erase” with water colors to get a lighter shade, either by blotting with a tissue or diluting an already-painted, mostly-dry area with a watery paintbrush. They could employ one of those methods to depict one side of trees as lighter. (Short explanation: paint whole tree with a medium shade of the color you want. Use a tissue to blot away, or a watery-paintbruh to wash away, the lightest portion of your tree. Last, to get the shadowy side paint, paint it a darker color.)

My warm browns show I’m not emulating Wyeth in his color palette, and I told my students they could choose, or not choose, colors like Wyeth used.)

Step 8: Last, I added in my grass and the rock wall around the tree trunks. (I could have, maybe should have, done that before the trees.)

Step 9: Watercolor can mange to dry on top of the glue. If paint dries, it can be re-wetted with a paintbrush and wiped away to leave white snowflakes. (Or, some types of paper will allow you to peel off the dried glue, revealing pristine white orbs beneath.)

Notes: This was fun to do! So while I have little experience painting landscapes to offer any knowledgeable tips, I enjoyed it. And learning things to use to resist paint–like dried glue–is a useful lesson in itself for students! The glue that dries clear acts like a window to allow you to preserve and see through to the white paper. Also, if some of the watercolor dries on top of the glue, it can be wiped off with water, leaving the glue clear again. I’d like to do this again, with more creativity, now that I’ve given it a shot!

Any comments or thoughts to share? Please do!

On another topic, are you a reader? I’m looking for people to read my professionally revised, finished draft of my novel before I take it to agents. More info? Looking for Readers for My Novel.

Other posts:

Looking for Readers for My Novel

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

Norman Rockwell lesson

Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses


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Georgia O’Keefe lesson

I confess: I’ve never been a huge fan of Georgia O’Keefe. I guess I’m just not a big flower kind of art-loving gal. But I enjoyed this art lesson very much. Three years ago, this lesson was used in my Masters class (kids ages 10-13) for Fine Arts, week 15 of cycle 3 for Classical Conversations, but really, I would do this project with even apprentices (ages 6-7).

Discovering Great Artists gives you basic background info. She was a trained artist in the early 1900s, considered by many to have begun pure abstraction in American Modernism. In planning this lesson, I found more to appreciate about her work than I’d noticed previously. The calla lily below captivated me for the whimsical bend in the stem and the amazing articulation of the line wending its way up the paper, the slight shadow of the under-petal. But, trying to teach students to paint what on white–not the most practical introduction!


Georgia O’Keefe. Calla Lily Turning Away.

But she was famous for flowers. Flowers and skulls. I had some woodsy boys in class, and at my request, they did indeed bring found skulls from their property to class this day, so most boys did this project with a skull while the girls did the flowers.


The Project. My class was older, with some kids who were very serious about developing skills–so what skill could I pass on? (Note, letting them experiment with the medium and study her works is enough; no one in CC is instructed or expected to do more than that.) I’d decided I would use watercolor for this project, AND I was inspired by the range of light to dark in the flower petals below, so I aimed to show my students the wonderful quality of watercolors in that they can be “erased” to show very light areas.



dish of water


watercolor paper (important!! otherwise, the moisture will destroy the paper before they’ve accomplished anything)

tissues/paper towels for blotting

newspaper for table

paper towel for wiping brushes


Step #1. I passed out paper and allowed students to choose a skull or a fake flower which I brought to class. (I had orange and red roses). I showed them some of her paintings, including a couple skulls and the poppy and roses below:


Georgia O’Keefe. Red Poppy. https://www.thoughtco.com/georgia-okeeffe-photography-and-surrealism-2578258


Georgia O’Keefe. Yellow Rose. https://www.tes.com/lessons/WdT7N3rTQDmzLg/georgia-o-keefe-1887-1986


Step #2. I asked students to review, aloud, how to first approach a basic sketch of their chosen subject. (Look for the OiLs and basic geometric shapes, and measure the size of shapes, etc.) Then I showed my sample project. While I do not have a preserved sketch before painting, you can see the pencil lines in my sample below:

O-keefe painting 2 001

This sketch is not detailed; it records only the outside line of each petal’s edge. I encouraged students to stat in the middle and build  out, and to have fun with all the varieties of lines–from curves to ruffles. But don’t spend a lot of time on it.

Step #3. Observation–the key to everything. Ask students to observe the medium shade of what they are drawing. (For the skulls, we were working with a light yellow/green color or blue for the bones). Then I showed them how to take that medium shade and just quickly cover the entire shape on their page with that color.

Step #4: Observe where on the object has the lightest shade of that color. I demonstrated two ways to go back and make those sections/petals lighter. The first works only on still-wet paint: take a tissue or paper towel and blot. The tissue will soak up the moisture–and the pigment with it–leaving a lighter shade on the paper. This is kinda of fun, and some students ran with this, blotting away on all their lightest parts and never using the second method. The second method can be used even when paint is completely dry. Simply take a wet brush to areas you want lighter, and by painting on clear water, the paint in the area will be diluted. That might lighten it enough–or, you could go back to method #1 and blot some of the paint off to lighten it even more. You can even get back to nearly pure white this way.

Step #5. Observe the darkest parts of the objects. For flowers, generally the middle, for sure, and for the skulls, the depressions and eye sockets. Here, I showed students how to darken the medium shade they painted by painting a brown overtop the orange for my flower. (Depending on the color of flower, a wash of gray might be more appropriate than brown). This sample below shows a lot more work done on the darker areas than my sample above. Of the two samples, I recall that one I did before class to show students what we were doing, and the other I made as I took them step-by-step through the project. (I no longer recall which one is which).o'keefe painting 1 001 Step #6 Note that because this is water color, our techniques to erase, lighten and darken can be used again and again (unless our paper gets too soggy and starts coming apart. The key to preserving the paper is to not get it too wet, and let it dry between changes.)

I recall this being the best/easiest project of the year as far as being able to finish in the time allotted. The skulls were harder than the flowers, due to the issues in having to paint something that looks white. (The concept of painting white deserves its own lesson!) I liked giving the boys the skulls option–because how many times will we study an artist who paints animal skulls?! But it would have been better for them had I made that the entire class’ project and therefor have been able to focus on its unique needs and do it step-by-step with them.

PS One of my samples has splatter marks –I tell my class those happy accidents can look like rain or dew drops (and can put there intentionally, if wanted, by splattering water from the brush).

So, any tips or comments from those who’ve done this lessons? Please share your experiences or observations!

On another topic, are you a reader? I’m looking for people to read my professionally revised, finished draft of my novel before I take it to agents. More info? Looking for Readers for My Novel.


Other posts:

Looking for Readers for My Novel

Norman Rockwell lesson

Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

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Norman Rockwell lesson

I could choose many different focus points for week 14’s Fine Arts lesson, cycle 3, on iconic illustrator Norman Rockwell for Classical Conversations, but in the end, a good lesson can really handle only one. I created this lesson three years ago for my class of 10-13-year-olds, and I chose to make the lesson about facial expressions, just one of Rockwell’s ingredients to make his magic.

Ever since at least tenth grade, I’ve loved normal Rockwell. I chose to do my English research paper on him. Did I love his  work, as many do, for the nostalgia his work generates? For its humor? For its optimism and affection for humanity evident in how he portrays people? All those things were probably all part of the mix that drew me to his work.

Discovering Great Artists, the text recommended for CC tutors, gives a tiny autobiographical snapshot of this member of “the Greatest Generation,” this underweight boy who gorged himself on bananas before he weighed in again at the recruiter’s office in an attempt to join the services during WWII. His life read much like his created scenes in illustration–pretty typical, not glamorous, but humorous.


The project: Facial Expressions in Rockwell

Step #1. This step happened before class, both to students and to parents in email: I asked students to bring in a photo (of anyone, even from a magazine) of a very definite facial expression showing an emotion. Be it from elation, anger, horror, sadness–it just had to be a strong emotion. (For those who forgot, they could use my Rockwell examples brought in.)

Step #2. I shared a bit about who Normal Rockwell was while passing around my print outs of some of his Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations. I  asked students to tell the class what story they saw being told by one picture.

Step #3. Observation. If students don’t take time to observe closely/accurately, they will be at a loss in trying to draw expressions.

I asked students, if we didn’t see the facial expressions, could that story have come across well? I ask the students,  What the ingredients to a face? First, students answer about eyes, noses, mouths, etc. I ask them to look at the mouths and eyes of the illustrations I passed out and asked them to describe them–to get them to observe that everything is big and wide open for surprise in the top one, but for the tackling boy in the football picture below, eyes and mouth are scrunched tight–you literally cannot see any lips or eyes. What about the shape of the boy’s mouth who is getting the wind knocked out of him in the tackle?


Then I asked, What else does a face need? What about wrinkles in the forehead for the apologizing boy at the dance down below? The wrinkles and bunches in the tackling boy’s face? The red in the cheeks for the boy getting tackled? The knot between the eyebrows on the girl whose foot got stepped on during the dance? Expressions are about the shape of not just the features–eyes, nose, mouth, eyebrows–but also the shape of the skin between them!


Step #4. Then I ask them to look at the photo brought in from home–to look for the ingredients that make up that expression. (For simplicity, focus on one face. Encourage them they can add others from a scene at home, but for class, we’ll walk through one together.)

Step #5: I share my photo from home to my students: two of my children in one of my favorite photos ever. I point out what I notice in the photo and need in my drawing: for the baby, eyebrows high on the forehead, high above eyes, eye big and round in surprise.  On the other hand, for my son, the key to getting across his laughter was the details around the eyes as the skin crinkled and how the smile is not the wide–as in a portrait–a smile in laughter shows teeth, and takes a different shape as it stretches all the way around the gums. Perhaps this is the hardest/most key part of doing expressive faces well–applying earlier lessons I taught them at the beginning of the year–what shape is that really? (Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations and Upside-Down Drawing, Week 3) It’s all too easy for any student of drawing to think, “I have to draw a smile,” and they will draw a smile, but not the shape of the smile they are trying to capture. rockwell-expression-sketch-001-e1514837573532.jpg

Step #6: While we couldn’t trace over the shapes we find on these photos, as we traced over black-lined drawings earlier in the year, I do encourage tracing, in the air, over the shapes they see in the photo of the body they plan to draw.

Step #7: I gave students blank paper for sketching.  I encourage mapping the general lines of the whole body first, leaving details of the face til later.

I showed my sketch, pointing out how I broke the limbs down into long ovals and to get proportion and spacing right, how I measured with pencil part or finger parts (as taught in Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American)

Step #8. The face. I referred them to the drawing of the face of the Native American in week 2 as we closely observe the shapes AND sizes of not just the eyes, nose, and mouth, but even the skin between them! The size and shape of the skin portions between the features are just as important! And is that skin flat, wrinkled, pouchy or featuring lines or a different color to get across emotion? (In the case of color, we’ll deal with that later, but it’s good to note now.)

As they draw, I circualte aroudn the room, assisting as needed, encouraging, sometimes even drawing part of their subject on MY piece of scrap paper so they can see how I break down the task.

Facial expression is arguably one of the hardest drawing tasks, so I encourage my students that success in this lesson is in noticing something they hadn’t before and/or trying to faithfully record that surprising shape or size of that facial feature. Students may not get to coloring at all in class, or even finish sketching the face–but in the time constraints we have, I defined the goal as learning to observe what the key ingredients are to that facial expression, so I praise the students not for completion or perfection, but for every gain they have made in observation and recording. My son’s smile is no crescent moon–the top lip has a unique double curve. It’s truly an amazing gift if a student has an epiphany in drawing, even if the product does not look impressive . This is about learning, not polishing.

Step #10 I encourage students to finish at home if they wish and show us their progress next week! Here is where I show my colored version:

Rockwell expression color 001

I put more work into this project than any other because they are my kids, and I wanted to finish it–and I encourage my students to do the same: to work at home, especially for anything they really like or enjoy! (I look at this now and still wish I had time to work on it more! There is always room to grow in these skills. While this may look really good to some people, there are aspects of this I’d like to improve on.)

Also, I pointed out one thing–that I exaggerated my daughter’s expression by making her facial features larger. (Comparing my first sketch to my final version shows this change.) Rockwell did a fair amount of exaggerating, especially to increase the comic effect.

Note: Some of my students drew people that were very cartoony, not attempts at realism. That is okay! The focus is on the facial expressions, and if a cartoon kind of face is the place where they can begin exploring, that is fine.

How did this lesson go for you, fellow tutors? Any observations or tips? Please share!


Other posts:

Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses

When You’re Expecting During the Holidays (and how others can help)

Disney During the Holidays

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

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When You’re Expecting During the Holidays (and how others can help)

If you baby has a due date around the holidays, here’s a list of things for you–and your family and friends–to consider. Challenges and blessings that makes having a baby around the December/January holidays different than having a baby at any other time of year. I had a holiday baby and one of my sisters was expecting an end of December baby this season, bringing it all back to mind! Hopefully, these thoughts will help some other mom prepare–and help family and friends know how to best support.

1. Extra stress from unpredictability
. Childbirth and due dates are always unpredictable, and while having an April baby on a Tuesday versus a Saturday may hold some difference, having a baby the day before a big holiday, or the day of, versus three days after it’s over–that’s a monumental difference in experience!

Holiday gatherings take many hours of planning and prep work–and if you just knew whether you’d have the baby before or after would allow you to make wiser decisions about how to spend your time and dwindling energy… It was very frustrating in every practical way to not know if I would have Christmas morning with my family, and I imagine it’s the same for my friends celebrating the first night of Hanakkuh or Kwanza, or maybe even New year’s Eve.

When you are pregnant (especially if you have other kids already), you look ahead to that big day and wonder if you’ll be there, as big as a house, or in labor–or just returned home and trying to remember if it’s day or night as you’re up around the clock with a newborn! You did all this work and are looking forward to so much–but will you be there to enjoy it?

My due date was December 26, the day after Christmas. Because I’d had my other children prior to my due date, one almost 2 weeks before it, I hoped I’d have this baby around December 16th. I worked my tail off getting everything ready for going into labor around the 16th. I was excited, anxious, and very busy. But I got it done.

104_1010And then I waited.

And waited another day.

And another.

And each day that passed, my spirits plummeted further. I wanted the baby to arrive before Christmas! I preferred to be back home and have the disruptions behind us. The stress of my disappointment kept mounting and mounting–and was made worse by the fact that I had worked ahead and left myself with not much to do!

Tips: Focus only on what you can know, and do what’s reasonable with the rest. Also, consider doing something early if it’s really important for you to not miss. Don’t leave it to chance.

2. Feeling like you’re missing all the parties/festivities! A sister just said that to me last week, and I remember that feeling–like you’re missing Christmas. (Note here, this sister is adopting, and still, just about everything on this list applies to her situation, as she will go to the hospital with the birthmom and stay in the hospital with the baby.)

My husband’s side of the family always gathered the Saturday before the holiday, but we were not driving that far from our place of delivery. My side of the family was driving to my mom’s house for Christmas, but we were not.  So we had nothing to go to for Christmas Eve or Christmas day. No one to see, no one to celebrate with.There were other parties we didn’t plan to attend either, thinking we’d already have had the baby or that I won’t want to go, being so close to my due date.

And you do feel like you’re missing out on almost everything–because you ARE!

This Christmas, when my sister asked if our family could postpone celebrating Christmas til January, in the hopes that she could actually make it, I knew how it felt knowing everyone was gathering and all was going on as usual  and you were missing it. So I said,  “Yes, we should move the celebration so she can hopefully join us.” So we are now celebrating in January!

TIPS: Ask. If you’re the one expecting, ask your family and friends, if practical and not crazy, if a celebration can be moved to before or after your expected baby’s arrival. If you’re a friend or family member, consider the mama’s experience and suggest this to the rest of the family/friends. There is nothing like feeling excluded, and conversely, there is nothing like feeling so appreciated and loved as when others consider your experience and move to include you.

If the above don’t work or apply, consider how you can make a meaningful celebration yourself. When you know you are missing a party you’ve loved attending, choose to do something else you love that you won’t get to do in the months ahead: snuggle up with cocoa and a favorite old movie, etc.

I never had to make something up to fill the time. My Christmas Eve party turned into being driven back home through the snow with baby in the car seat next to me. And with the kids, we made our own Christmas day: quiet, at home, with our less-than-a-day-old baby with us!


Christmas morning: presents wrapped and unwrapped, and newborn things all over the coffee table!

3. Extreme difficulties finding care for your other children. I cannot underestimate this one enough. This may have been my biggest stress when anticipating my daughter’s arrival. My due date was the 26th, and though I expected to go early–as I’d never seen my due date in any other pregnancy either–each day the calendar crept to December 24th was very worrying because that was the day we had a gap in childcare coverage. A time when all my local sisters were driving north to visit family or in-laws. A time when all others close enough to ask to come stay with the kids–friends, church family, neighbors–were ALL leaving town! It was uncanny–a year when no one stayed in our county! Though I’d been begging to go into labor before Christmas, I swiftly changed my tune on the 23rd and instead wanted that baby to stay inside until the 26th–just so there’d be someone to take care of our other children!

To solve that problem for Christmas day itself, we’d invited my husband’s parents to come stay overnight–so that someone could be here with our littles, day or night, if I went into labor. We’d never had them come or stay over Christmas, but it seemed the only practical thing to do under the circumstances.

So that left just one small window–the first half of Dec 24–when all sisters and friends would be gone, and my in-laws would not yet be here. Every other day was covered! So of course, basket of nerves that I was, I prayed I’d not go into labor that one morning!


My sister just went through this–she had the one day where everyone was out of town for the day, and she hoped the baby wouldn’t come, because who could she call to take care of her son?

Tips: Plan the best you can–though it feels like you’re piecing together the pattern of a kaleidoscope, and one little twist/turn of the thing, and all the pieces shatter to the ground. (The relied-upon sister can get sick, or a friend who promised they would be called on day or night could change her mind about helping last minute, etc.–and you start piecing together a new puzzle!)

And if you’re a family member or friend, the best advice I can give is to be flexible, even when it hurts. If you offer or agree to help, changing your mind when the time comes, or restricting your availability, puts expectant parents and/or siblings under high stress. If you want to give the expecting family a gift for the holiday, the best one is to give them your flexibility–even though it may be inconvenient during the holidays. (And if you don’t have the flexibility to be of help, that’s ok; just don’t offer it unless you can.) The expecting parents aren’t asking family or friends to undergo any inconvenience that they themselves aren’t already undergoing themselves to an even greater degree. This is an amazing opportunity to give self-sacrificingly, even if the timing is really not preferable.

And for the mamas in this position, the last tip I give is if the above doesn’t happen: forgive. Work on, practice, forgiving those who don’t pull through for you and you feel let you down. (Holding onto unforgiveness does you no favors in labor or the post-partum phase either.)

Note: My favorite part of my story is how we just so narrowly avoided our gap of “no childcare.” (The blessing of answered prayer…) My nearest sister was scheduled to leave the morning of the 24th, but I called her around 4 am, saying I was in labor. It was perfect timing–in just a few hours, she’d have been gone, driving to another state to visit members of her in-laws. (And, if memory serves me correctly, this sister and her husband  actually delayed their trip and were at my house later that night when we returned home, though my in-laws had arrived to take over.

Okay, I’ll pause right there. I can almost hear readers’ eyes popping out of their heads. I was able to deliver the baby and be home the same day because I went to a free-standing birth center with midwives, and you need stay only 4 hours after birth, if all is well. I’d done that before; having a natural birth in the environment of those midwives always left me in good shape; I never had to recover from interventions (as I did in my first son’s birth, a hospital birth complete with Pitocin induction and various other things that complicated my recovery).

Extra tips: For friends and family: be like my sister. She’s awesome. Self-sacrificially, she and her husband stayed in town! (That’s above and beyond.) For each of my babies, she was always the first (or among the first) to meet each baby, whether at hospital or at my house upon my return form the birth center. Also, be like my in-laws, willing to come overnight for a holiday, totally against their tradition!

4. Extra stress from added tasks. It’s just true that for women and moms especially, the holidays present a long list of extra things to do. So while packing the hospital bag, washing the baby clothes, getting the room/crib/bassinet ready, add baking cookies, making snack trays and gifts for office or school parties, all the Christmas shopping and food prep too. (Holiday stress to the second power.) Then, there are the gifts–and the wrapping! For any non-pregnant woman with normal resources of energy, this is a monumental task completed in late nights already!

Tips: Enlist others to help. If a family member offers to help–let them! Also, delegate others and/or exempt yourself from extra, outside demands on your time which may not be yours to give in the end. You may not even make it to Aunt Mary’s house for Christmas Eve so even if you always make the gingerbread, this may be the year to let someone else do it or simply explain that you cannot be counted on. (Your family may not have the gingerbread one year, but it will be okay! Friends and family: offer to lighten the load, offer your time or effort or extend the grace of a free pass on an obligation.

5. Reduced staff/availability of services. I gave birth to all three of my kids at/near a holiday. (Really!) The first was Memorial Day weekend. I stayed in the hospital an extra day even, in order to get a chance to see the lactation consultant as recommended, but she still had not returned to work before I left. It became a theme in each of my births: “Well, normally we have ______, but because its’ a holiday, we don’t.”

Similarly, for our daughter’s Christmas Eve birth, my husband wanted to leave and go get some restaurant food to bring back for us to eat. He even got recommendations before he left, but then found that all area restaurants were closed. When he made it to the main inter-state highway about 15 minutes away, he fund one fast-food restaurant open, so that was what he got! Because we’d delivered this baby at a free-standing birth center, not a hospital with a cafeteria, we had to get food elsewhere. (I’d already eaten my frozen enchiladas meal brought for the purpose; labor makes you famished!) We didn’t realize how much the world shuts down Christmas Eve/Day, since we’ve never needed to check them out before. (Plus, giving birth can sort of take you out of time, and you don’t know what day it is anyway!)

Tips: Just be realistic about how the world has available on holidays. It’s not completely business as usual if you birth on a holiday.

6. Holiday cheer helps. If you like the holidays and their trappings, then it is a mood booster. I do love the holidays and so took advantage of the nostalgia and comfort from the festive decorations on the dark, wet streets as we drove to the birth center. I labored and gave birth to the background of Christmas carols. (If you find that annoying, you can have it turned off.)

I loved being pregnant during the Christmas season; Christmas is a favorite holiday. If you have ever tried to identify with Mary, being pregnant makes you think of things you might otherwise never have thought about, regarding her experience. I remember our church showing this video for Francesca Battistelli’s Christmas Song “Be Born in Me,” and tears streamed down my face:

7. Who cares for you at home may have to change. I already mentioned that stress ate at me, worse each day, the closer the calendar crept toward Christmas day. Tears dribbled down my cheeks easily, even when I had no idea why. It took me days to realize consciously that my anxiety rose in reverse proportion to the number of days left until Christmas because, if I gave birth right before or during Christmas, my mom would not be coming to help.

There are just times you want your mama.  For each of my babies, my Mom came to help for 2-3 days. That was always such a comfort and gave such peace of mind because she’d had 5 kids, loved, loved, loved babies (we call her “The Baby Whisperer”), and she also nursed her babies and could give both support and help in that department. (And seriously, The Baby Whisperer can take a crying infant and soothe it to sleep even through feeding times!)

But when you give birth near or on a holiday, the person/people you were counting on for the transition back home may not be able to come right away. My mother, who lives hour away from us, already had a houseful of guests staying overnight, for whom she was cooking a breakfast and dinner the next day. She couldn’t just leave them. I do remember she wrapped it up as quickly as she could and did get to us later, Christmas night. (God bless her!)

After birth, your hormones are bonkers, and you cry at the drop of a hat. I honestly was completely bummed that my own mama couldn’t be there for that first day home–all because I had to give birth on one of the TWO holiday days I didn’t want to! It was really okay; my husband was there, my in-laws were there to help with practical things like the other kids and some kitchen stuff to keep people fed.

Tips: As much as it pains me to say, any mama in this predicament just has to give it time when her mama can’t get there right away due to holiday traditions/obligations. Even though it can be really challenging at times, due to the fact that you’ve JUST GIVEN BIRTH, not to begrudge the family enjoying a big holiday meal  while you’re trying not to have non-stop hormonal crying while hiding in your bedroom, trying to teach your tiny newborn with a too-small mouth how to nurse, since your tiny house allows no other place to be while in-laws are visiting.  (Even while you’re simultaneously glad those wonderful in-laws ARE there, because they kept your other kids and are currently playing with them in the living room! Face it, you’re a bundle of contradictions after childbirth.)

IMAG1478 And though you feel the only thing to make all things right in the world is the presence of your mom, a holiday might be the one non-tragedy that could mess that up, and you simply have to wait.

Accept any all kinds of help this is offered. Maybe it’s not your mom offering to help with the baby, but DO take up your Mother-in-law’s offer to heat up supper, and your husband’s offers to set up a movie for you in the bedroom, and your kids ask if they can carry diapers to you. Receive all the love and grace you can soak up while waiting for what you feel is the only balm.

8. The chance to use holiday names. My daughter’s first name had been picked–since I was in high school. But the middle name was yet to be decided. We considered many names for our girl that have a Christmas root or association: Holly, Ivy, Natasha, Natalie, Christmas, Ginger, Christina, December, Winter, Star, Stella, Angel, Mary, Merry and Noel/Noelle. I really loved Noelle, but a sister had that picked out for a future child, as its middle name, so we left that alone.


In the end, we chose Joy for our daughter’s middle name. It was so perfectly fitting–recalling such a time of great joy, celebrating a pinnacle event in our faith,  when angels told some smelly shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy, which shall be to all people.” And our baby girl indeed brought us great joy too. And in the years we’ve had her, she has lived up to her name of spreading joy with her personality and by just being herself.

9. Unparalleled Christmas gift.

Your family, and especially kids, will NEVER forget the arrival of a holiday baby. It will be permanently etched into their memories, always associated with that holiday.

My oldest had prayed for a sister for two years, and to him (and us), this baby was the best gift we could have been given (after the original Gift, of course).


No present that year even came close to comparing with his baby sister.

This was the best part of having a holiday baby. My boys have such strong memories of her arrival because that event combined with Christmas. Even on days she drives them nuts, they still say she was their best gift.

So, anyone else have anything to add to this list? And homebirth moms, I imagine your list might include some other items? What would you add? Leave comments!

P.S. A public service announcement: If the peculiar challenges of a holiday baby leaves anyone thinking that induction might be the best solution, to guarantee a birth before the holidays, I just have to say that is one route my family has determined is not an enjoyable solution. Just have to put that out there. Three of us 4 sisters have walked the path of induction in the birth of a child (though not elected in order to have a child before a holiday) and it left our only sister yet to have children to say, “Why do doctors induce anybody anyway?” because she has seen is that it led to very long, drawn-out labors with unnatural levels of pain, very difficult recoveries as a result of multiple interventions brought about by the induction process, and in one case, ended in C-section anyway because the baby was not ready. I could write a whole post on this subject, but I felt I needed to say why I didn’t list it as a “tip” for a mama to avoid the unpredictability of arrival. Induction is a big decision in which many factors need to be considered, and I can share only our experiences as to why we’d not recommend it as a solution for holiday convenience.


Other posts:

Christmas Letter 2017

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Disney During the Holidays

Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses




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Disney During the Holidays

Our trip to Disney during the Christmas season was my second visit to the parks; we’d gone with my in-laws when my boys were both under 5. Because my boys were so young, our experience of Disney this time was quite different, because did different things.

Here I’ll highlight a smattering of experiences–including the new Beauty and the Beast features, an Avatar ride, food, the holiday features and more, in no particular order.

  1. Meeting Princesses. First time for this. My daughter is nearly 5, so she was at just the age to be in awe…at first. The first Disney movie princess she met was Tiana (because you had to meet Tiana before Rapunzel), and my daughter didn’t even now who Tiana was. (We watched The Princess and the Frog once, years ago, but it wasn’t well liked; the voodoo aspect of the story made it scary to the kids, and I didn’t want that playing on repeat in my house either.) But, the amazing thing is, after meeting 4 princesses that night, my daughter said Tiana was her favorite! Why? Because she took the time to talk with my daughter; asked about her family, her life. 

    After that first night of meeting Princesses in the Magic Kingdom, my daughter’s tune changed. She’s come to the trip stating that Anna and Elsa were her favorite and a priority to meet. However, by day 4, when we were eating at Akershus, right next to the house where Anna and Elsa are to meet, she said, when I asked, that she didn’t want to wait in line to meet anyone , because, “they aren’t the real her. It’s just someone to pretending to be Anna and Elsa, so I don’t want to do that.”

Come to find out, she wanted to meet characters that looked like their cartoons–and now I understand, reflecting back to recall whom my girl met first–on day one: Sophia the First:


Sophia was a portrayed by a human woman, but wearing a suit of skin that covered even her hands and neck, topped by a big cartoon head. I guess Naomi expected more of that! But she grew accustomed to the princesses being played by an actress. However, when she met Belle, I learned that she fully expected to meet Emma Watson, the actress from the new Disney version!

However, Belle was so sweet and enchanting both times my daughter interacted with her, Naomi seemed to forgive her for not being Ms. Watson.

But by the time we had our character dinner at Akershus, I had to instruct my daughter to still pose with them and allow me to take a picture. Because you can’t tell the princesses, as they come to each table, “No thanks, my daughter doesn’t care about you anymore–because you’re not the real one.”

2. Cinderella’s Castle restaurant versus Akershus in Epcot, both of which feature a bevy of princesses who will meet your children. We went to Cinderella’s Castle with the boys years ago–because they wanted the sword that is given to each boy who comes! (Seriously. The only reason.) It was nice. We were there for lunch. The kids ate mac n cheese. I don’t recall what I had anymore. It cost two dinner credits per person.

Akerashus, on the other hand, costs only one meal credit, though it lacks nothing that Akershus offers (well, maybe the complimentary sword or tiara given to each child…) Cinderella is even at Akershus. (For some irony though, Akershus is in the Norway section of Epcot, adjacent to the Frozen ride, and Anna and Elsa are princesses who never put in an appearance there… We saw Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, and Sleeping Beauty.) The food was really great: a salad and hors d’eouvres bar to start,  then I had an exquisite creamy wine sauce pasta with seafood, and dessert was a little tray of three desserts for my daughter and I to share: a bread pudding, an apple cake, and a delicious chocolate mousse treat.

We had wanted to take our daughter to Cinderella’s castle, and even though my husband tried to book it the first day it’s permitted–180 days from the trip–there were no openings! My husband stalked it for months, to no avail. He booked Akershus as a second choice, by default. I see no default; I’d book there again and not feel I missed a thing. The two offerings are so comparable, you need only one or the other. (And one costs half as much….)

2. Full meal plan versus partial: We didn’t know what we were doing on our first trip to Disney with my in-laws years ago–and that is why we got a 3-meals-a-day dining plan (though it was offered half price as a special). But we just didn’t know–how abundant the food was and how after a couple days, we regretted it. We were so full, we didn’t want to go to the next meal! Not to mention the time it takes to do 3 sit-down meals a day.

So this time, we got a dining pan with one sit-down meal a day, one quick service, and two snacks. That is truly more than adequate.

But in that trade off, we also did lose something.

On our first trip, our hats were off to Disney because the way they structured everything (high price though it may be), it was paid for up-front, and all dining decisions were made up-front, so much of the stress of meals simply evaporated! (And that’s invaluable when you’re dining with toddlers!)

While downgrading to less food was better and smarter as far as the amount of food really needed, we lost the eradication of the stress of choosing a place to eat 1-2 times a day. AND–a new Pandora’s box was unleashed by some amazingly dedicated should who tabulated every snack available in all the parks, with it’s price! But there are pros and cons to this knowledge.

Pros to this list: we sometimes ate snacks as lunch, and it was great to know to go to the little tea stand outside China in Epcot to get 2 egg rolls or curry chicken pockets as a snack, or humus and veggies in Animal Kingdom.  My kids loved a fruit and in Animal Kingdom’s Africa section that sold fruit and cheese, including a little Babybel round that fascinates them (I think it’s the round package…). I love knowing that all choices aren’t sugary treats.

Cons: You don’t want to get caught in the trap of comparing values of the snacks. If you become focused on not getting a frozen banana you want because it’s $3 when you could get a whole sundae at another stand, it can take over. You could get stuck in thinking you should just pay cash for the cheap snacks and save your snack credits for things with a higher value–but then you’re thinking about the money and weighing decisions–and in reality, we still didn’t even use up all our snack credits by the end of the week! We had two left over. Good strategy–get what you want to eat, no matter its comparative value, and don’t buy anything outright to “save” your snacks credits–spend the credits first and then see IF (big if) you actually run out and need to purchase anything with cash.  (That’s just my advice to avoid the day-to-day stress and pretend you’re really in a magic kingdom…)


3. Be Our Guest restaurant: The glowing reviews we read about this place were absolutely correct. You can’t believe it’s considered a quick-service. We went twice for breakfast–once for my daughter and myself, then another time with the entire family because my son, whom we thought would be disinterested, was upset he didn’t get to go! The food was very good (including the tray of pastries for the table to share), but the details really bring it home. The waiter brought the food in full character, not just the post-Renaissance costume of knickers–but with a French accent, finesse and all. And the fact that we were eating in an opulent ballroom, decked out for Christmas no less,  mesmerized my daughter.



When the whole family went, the boys wanted to eat the West Wing–so dark and dreary, my photos didn’t turn out! In there, the chandeliers are thick with decaying, hanging cloths, the prince’s portrait is ripped, and the only light appears to come from embers in an old fireplace. In a corner sits a gated-off area with the rose behind glass. this place gets full points for decor.

Tip: It really makes a difference if you order your food ahead of coming. Because we did, both times, we were led directly in to get a seat, instead of the right-hand side line that was long and winding.


The details at this place–inside and out–were impressive:


4. Storytime with Belle. My daughter had no interest in checking this out. We didn’t really know what it was–a place where a costumed Belle told a story? Well, thankfully, on our last day, in the afternoon, our daughter decided she wanted to go. And boy, it was one of the best things we did! Inside, you wait in a small room of a cottage, and when it’s time you’re led to a wood shop. Inside, someone begins to tell you a story and the mirror on the wall, with a screen of smoke, transforms into a doorway that leads into the castle.


In this lush hallway, the talking wardrobe welcomes all the children. When she opens, props come out as children are recruited to play the parts to re-enact the story of how Belle and Beast fell in love. My daughter got the “role” of a dancing dinner plate.

Then we were led to another room where Lumiere welcomed us and introduced Belle, who entered from the side. Belle narrated, calling the kids forward when their part required them . (All of this is perfectly short–just the perfect time-span for the littles.)


Then, when I thought it was over, each child is called up by name and introduced to Belle formally as she took their hands and gave them a bookmark for reading–since we were sitting in the castle’s library!

We almost didn’t get to this, and in the end, I thought it was one of the best features for small ones.


5. Avatar Flight of Passage  My daughter was too small, and someone had to stay with her. So my boys and hubby took this ride together–a ride for which a friend of ours said he waited in line for two hours, and “it was totally worth it!” My family agreed–it was the best ride they’ve been on, bar none.

My boys and hubby had fast-passes–which is good because that day, wait times were well over two hours–185 minutes at times! Because of those wait times, I, with no fast-pass, never did it.

So my review of this is dependent on their testimony. But after the fact that I missed it, we were given a great tip: we can get 5 fast passes, even though one of our party is too small. If we’d gotten all 5, I could have gone on the ride (with one lucky son who got to go twice) after the rest of the family already had their turn, while my husband stayed with our little girl while I rode. (I wish we’d thought of that earlier…just didn’t.)

6. Heavenly Desserts at Kringla Bakerie in the Norway section of Epcot. (Or the Frozen bakery, as my girl calls it, since it is in the Norway section, close to the Frozen ride.) The first day we went to Epcot, I got one pastry there. On our last night there, we had a lot of snack credits left, so the plan was to try as many different things as we could in the World Showcase. I took two kids to the Kringla Bakeri and we shared two types of pastries–and then we were too full to eat anything else. But they had been so good, at the end of the night, we went back and bought 5 more pastries for the whole family to sample the next day, before our flight home! My daughter tried Anna’s birthday cupcake, pictured below (a little squished after a stroller ride in a package). Now, I’m a girl who rarely tries anything that’s not chocolate (because you know, how can you ever bypass chocolate!), but the berry cream puff is so good, I got it twice! The only chocolate item, the mousse viking hat, was the only thing we didn’t really love. But the School bread, troll horn, cupcakes, cream puff and snow globe all got big thumbs up from us! I seriously have since dreamed about having another cream puff! IMG_0928

7. Christmas features. We had hopes of spending time just going to see how different places and hotels decorated–but there was always so much to do! But yes, everywhere you went in Disney was decked out:


And the characters dressed for the ocassion:


I’m someone who loves the Christmas season, so I loved the atmosphere, the music, etc., –even though, really, it didn’t really feel like Christmas because it was in the high 70s, and I’m from the North!

The entertainment also changed its regular feature to reflect the season; we saw the Frozen-themed stage show in Hollywood Studios and the Magic Kingdom’s noon show in front of Cinderella’s castle. My daughter loved all of this, and she went nuts when it “snowed” at the end of the Frozen show.

I really wanted to make it to the Christmas Nativity reading and candlelight processional, but the evening we could spend the time in Epcot to see it happened to be the night Whoopie Goldburg was the featured celebrity reader, and we found people waiting in line over an hour before each show time! With the ages of my kids, we weren’t spending our last evening there in line, so we missed that. Epcot had a lot of seasonal entertainment–a stage with a group performing Christmas and Kwanzaa songs, a Hanakkuh event, and in many countries’ sections of the World Showcase, that region’s representation of a Santa figure. I walked by and heard a bit of Papa Noel but missed the rest. Too many things to check out, not enough time!


And as unbelievable as it may sound, one of the most breathtaking things I saw was the Cinderella castle lit up at night. You’d think I’d seen it before; what’s the big deal. But it looked like shimmering crystal the way they do it for the holidays.


Well, I could write enough about Disney to fill many posts, but these were some highlights!

What are your best tips and observations of Disney?


Other writings:

Christmas Letter 2017

My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule



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Fine Arts Lesson: Grandma Moses

I prepared this lesson on Grandma Moses three years ago for Classical Conversations’ week 13 in Cycle 3. My class consisted of Masters (ages 10-12+). As this unit of the Fine Arts section is focused on the great masters and a chance for the students to dabble in a painting technique or focus of that artist, students tend to really look forward to it. It can be messy! (Or not, if you plan ahead.)

This week’s focus is Grandma Moses (Anna May Robertson). CC uses the book Discovering Great Artists as its primary text, featuring a short biographical sketch and an idea for a project. What I love about her story is the fact that she didn’t really start painting until she was in her 80s. It’s encouraging and a wonderful model of how people need never stop learning, growing and developing new abilities. (I’m not surprised CC chose her as an artist to highlight.)

Grandma Moses

Photo of Anna May Robertson, WikiArt: https://www.wikiart.org/en/grandma-moses

Step 1. To start my class, I always begin by showing examples. So many of her winter snow pictures and landscapes are available, but I’ve put one of my favorites below: Gathering in the Maple Syrup.


Bringing in the Maple Sugar by Grandma Moses (1939)

The Quilting Bee, 1940 - 1950 - Grandma Moses

The Quilting Bee by Grandma Moses

Step 2. Now, after the autumn unit on drawing, where in my class it’s all about being very serious about developing drawing skills, students may look at Moses’ work and exclaim, “Wait, she’s not very…good.” So I like to prep them by first asking what they notice about her style of figures. In most samples of her work, the people are very tiny–just dark smudges with limbs, really. I’ve chosen the two on this page for my class because you can see larger figures, for my purpose in what we are doing for the project.

Among other things, I hope students will notice how simple her figures are. And how perspective is not what we’ve seen from Renaissance artists and beyond. They may have interesting observations of comparison to art from the middle Ages.

Here’s a good time to introduce the term “Folk Art.” Robertson was not a trained artist–she painted her own way, painting what she loved around herself. She focused on the landscape and the buildings and trees and how they meander around the natural features of the land. (The quilting painting is a rarity for her–she rarely painted inside scenes.)

Step 3. For the project, I explain that we will try to mimic the folk art of Grandma Moses. Students can choose to do a landscape with no people, or something with people–but with the goal that any people are in the folk art style. This may feel freeing sot some students and it may frustrate others who like to be more exact–but reality is, we have a half hour class and we’re using paint–simple figures is all we’ll have time for! This is just an introduction.

Our community’s director set up all the paint and supplies on tables in our common area, so I did not have to get this set up in my classroom. After we looked at Moses’ artwork and  talked about her (5 minutes), we walked out of our room to tables set up for this. We used tempera paints and small brushes.

Step 4. I showed students my photograph of a camping scene I went on (sorry, I cannot find that photo to show here) that I wanted to paint in the folk art style. I asked students what drawing lessons I should recall from the fall that would help me plan this project. (Hopefully, you’ll get students who mention the basic shapes and basic geometric shapes (Basic Shapes Drawing Lesson, Week 1, Classical Conversations), and size/proportion (Mirror-Image Drawing, Week 2, Classical Conversations, Native American. (Astute students may observe that the lesson on perspective can be ignored….)

Step 5. I showed students my sketch how I planned my painting by sketching in just the basic geometric shapes of the tents, trees and bodies–no details at all!

Grandma Moses sketch 001

Now, confession: this sketch is presented as a compromise. Not all painters sketch in pencil, and this project could/should be done just in paint (especially considering the time given)–but I was not able to jump directly to paint. So I offered my students the option.

Step 6. I showed my painting (done at home) next:

Grandma Moses mimic 001

This is not something I ever do, so it was stretching to paint something like this. I pointed out a few things: 1) My sketch was too ambitious for this project, so I cut out one of the figures when I moved to paint. 2) My colors are very basic–as they should be. 3) We’re not going for exactness. 4) I should have made it simpler still.

Most of my students wanted to dive into this with the paint. Many painted pictures of kids sledding.

My thoughts when the class was over were that: 1) students seemed to enjoy just being able to use paint and 2) we did not have enough time for students to even put paint down on their entire painting. I sent them home, stressing that we just scratched the surface! I encouraged them to continue at home.

Suggestions untried: To do this lesson for another group of students, I plan to try first telling them the assignment of drawing, then painting, a landscape or scene, so they can start sketching that with pencil as I introduce the artist and her work. That would give them more time drawing and painting.

Those who have tried this project, any tips or suggestions?


Other blog posts:

Disney at Christmas: a Review of 7 Favorite Things

I’m NOT that Crafty Mom

Eleven Tips for Making/Tweaking the New Homeschool Schedule

My Dad, Monsanto and Christmas Trees

Creating Edible Chocolate Mice Treats

Finding an Editor: Genre Matters (And sometimes, maybe you just have to do it yourself!)

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